How Often Should You Express a Dog’s Anal Glands?

Filed in Dog Health on July 11, 2021

how often to express dog glands

One topic that most dog owners don’t enjoy talking about is their dog’s anal gland expression.

Whether your dog is licking their hind end or scooting around on the carpet, anal gland problems are never a fun topic of conversation.

This article will discuss how often to express dog glands and detail some of the things you should be aware of when it comes to your dog’s gland health. It will also discuss how to properly take care of their glands.

Note this article has been reviewed and edited by a licensed DVM since it’s medical-related.

Quick Answer: It depends on your dog how often to express dog glands. You only need to express them if there is an issue. The frequency will vary for every dog.

What Are Anal Glands?

Anal glands are sac-like structures that lie just inside a dog’s rectum. There is one gland on either side of the anal canal. Each gland is typically the size of a grape.

The glands produce a foul-smelling fluid secretion that travels from the gland, through a small tube-like structure known as a duct.

When your dog poops, the poop puts pressure on the glandular sacs as it passes through the canal and causes the glands to express fluid. This fluid secretion covers your dog’s poop when it comes out.

How Often to Express Dog Glands

When and how often a dog will need their anal glands expressed will vary with every dog. Dogs use the secretions from these glands to mark their territory when they poop and most dogs can express their glands without issue.

Some conditions can cause your dog to have trouble expressing their glands on their own and they may require some additional help.

Some signs that your dog is struggling and needs an anal gland expression include:

  • Excessive licking of their hind end
  • Scooting
  • Difficulty with bowel movements
  • Swelling or discoloration of the rectum

If your dog is not showing any of these signs, there is no medical need to express their glands. In fact, doing so unnecessarily can lead to inflammation and other medical issues.

What Should I Do If I Suspect My Dog’s Anal Glands Need to Be Expressed?

The first thing you should do if you suspect your dog is having issues or experiencing discomfort is to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

Several medical conditions can have similar presentations and complications with the glands that require medical attention.

Getting your pet examined will help you determine what is going on and develop a plan with your vet on how to handle your pet’s needs.

Medical Conditions of the Anal Glands

Inflammation

Inflammation of the anal glands is also known as anal gland sacculitis. Inflammation can be caused by a variety of issues including manually expressing the glands too frequently and food allergies.

Impaction

When the anal glands are functioning properly, the secretions travel from the gland to the anus through a small duct. In some cases, this pathway can become blocked and the fluid is not able to escape the gland.

This is called anal gland impaction. As the fluid builds up, the fluid will become thicker and develop a more paste-like consistency. The built-up fluid is a breeding ground for bacteria and can lead to infection.

Abscess

When an anal sac impaction is not resolved the fluid will become bloody and the sac will start to fill with pus, forming an abscess.

As the gland continues to fill, the area will become inflamed and painful. Without intervention, the abscess can burst. If the abscess ruptures, it may leave a hole near the rectum.

Fowl odor and fluid will ooze from this site. This is a serious medical condition and needs to be addressed by your veterinarian. Treatment may require antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.

Anal Gland Adenocarcinoma

Anal gland adenocarcinoma is a cancer of the anal gland. This form of cancer is typically seen in older dogs. Some dogs will show symptoms of anal gland irritation or difficulty with bowel movements.

Diagnosis requires a rectal exam by your veterinarian and a biopsy. Anal gland adenocarcinoma is malignant and can spread to other areas of the body.

Who Should Be Expressing My Dog’s Anal Glands?

Vet cleaning anal gland of a dog

For dogs who need a little extra help expressing their glands, there are several options. Most owners prefer to take their pup to someone else to have this done.

Anal gland expression is a messy, smelly, and generally unpleasant experience for everyone involved. Paying a small fee to have this done by a professional is well worth the money for most owners.

Many veterinary offices will schedule quick appointments for anal gland expression and nail trims. This is also something that can be done at a routine wellness check or vaccine appointment.

If you find that your dog needs to have their glands expressed more frequently, some veterinary offices will show you how to safely do it at home.

Another option for gland expression is your local groomer. Some groomers express glands as part of their routine grooming service.

If you take your dog to the groomer frequently, ask your groomer if this is being done at every visit. Since most dogs express their anal glands on their own, the glands may not need to be manually expressed every time.

Expressing them too frequently can lead to irritation of the gland.

Gland Expression at Home

If you decide to express your dog’s anal glands at home, after consulting with your veterinarian, this step-by-step written guide below should help the process go more smoothly. For the more visual types, here is also a video on Youtube showing a method that is consistent with my instructions below.

1. Assemble Your Supplies

Before getting started, make sure you have all your supplies ready. You will need is a pair of disposable gloves, vaseline for lubrication, paper towels, and a warm damp washcloth.

This is typically a two-person job, so be sure to find someone willing to help.

2. Restrain Your Dog

To safely restrain your dog have your helper kneel next to your dog and place one arm under and around your dog’s neck. The other arm should go under and around the belly, just in front of your dog’s hind legs.

Although this should not be a painful procedure, it can be uncomfortable and your dog may react. It’s important to practice safe restraint and remain alert.

3. Position Yourself

With your dog restrained in the standing position, kneel behind your dog so that you are facing their tail. Make sure all of your supplies are easily accessible.

Put on your gloves and apply some vaseline to your index finger. Lift the tail and gently insert the tip of your finger into your dog’s rectum. You shouldn’t need to go in more than an inch.

4. Find the Gland

Gently run your inserted index finger along the sides of the anal canal to locate the glands. Each gland should be about the size of a grape, although size may vary depending on fullness.

If you think of the positioning like the numbers on a clock, the glands should be around the 4 and 8 o’clock positions.

5. Express the Gland

Cleaning anal glands of a dog

Once you locate a gland gently apply pressure by bringing your thumb and index finger together in a pinching motion.

In some cases, your index finger may be blocking the opening of the duct so move your finger back and forth until you feel the fluid start to come out. After you express the first gland, repeat the same process for the second.

6. Prevent a Mess

As you are working to express the glands, I highly recommend that you use the other hand to cover the rectum with paper towels.

The fluid has a very unpleasant odor that does not easily come out of clothing or fabric. In some cases, the fluid may squirt out very quickly, so watch out!

7. Examine the Fluid

The color and consistency of the fluid can indicate more serious issues with your dog’s glands. Normal secretions are fluid-like and clear to pale yellow in color.

Secretions that are thick, chunky, or dark in color may indicate a problem. The odor of the fluid is never pleasant, but if you notice that it is extremely foul this may indicate issues as well.

Always bring up any concerns with your veterinarian and schedule an appointment if needed.

8. Clean Up

Use a warm washcloth to clean any remaining fluid from your dog’s backside.

Tips and tricks: Many people find the left gland is easier to express with the right hand and the right gland easier to express with the left hand. This is just a matter of personal preference but is helpful to keep in mind.

What You Can Do to Help

If your dog experiences frequent issues with their anal glands, there are a few things you can do to help.

Putting your dog on a high fiber diet, maintaining your dog at a healthy weight, and trying a hypoallergenic diet are all things you should consider.

In severe cases, your veterinarian can surgically remove the glands. Like any surgery, there are always risks associated with a procedure and complications that can occur.

Conclusion on How Often to Express Dog’s Glands

How often to express dog’s glands is not a simple answer. Frequency depends on your dog and if they’re exhibiting signs of difficulty performing the task on their own.

At some point, all dog owners deal with the unpleasant smells and behaviors that come with anal gland expression.

Hopefully, this article helps you to better understand the potential causes of your dog’s issues, what you can do to help, and when to seek medical attention.

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